Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 10 Metal & Hardcore Albums

4. Opeth
Pale Communion

While genre purists wring their hands, bemoaning the progression of one of heavy music's most diverse and accomplished groups toward stewardship of the court formerly held by the Crimson King, those with a less solidly fixed perspective can dive in and revel in the bombastic glory of the Swedish titans hitting yet another landmark moment in an already epic career. Argue all you want about whether or not it's still metal if Åkerfeldt refuses to dust off his death growl, opting instead to challenge himself as an expressive singer; nailing the complex contours and naked intimacy of a masterfully crafted vocal melody is, other than in a purely physical respect, a hell of a lot tougher than straight-up bile gargling.

And testing one's self, extending personal boundaries of ability — what's more badass than that? So what if Pale Communion, which trades abrasive tones for a much more nuanced form of harmonic menace, is likely to be your mom's favourite Opeth album (if your mom is awesome)? Opeth don't fucking care; they're busy fanning the long-neglected flames of prog rock, nurturing emotional heaviness and exploring increasingly Goblin-esque sound textures to further their superlative union of folk, classical, jazz and sinister metallic grit. (Scott A. Gray)